Highly Recommended! 3-13 to 3-19

Posted March 13, 2009 at 4:02pm by Brecht Andersch, edited March 14, 2009 at 3:42am

Once again into the whirling, swirling vortex, dear friends... I come to you in the wee hours and am operating on less than half a night's proper restorative dance with the inner chimeras. Be prepared for anything... Will this whirligig, this mad carousel finally come flying apart à la Hitchcock's Strangers? Proceed and witness the latest descent into folly by yours truly. Join me in blind flight, in my eternal search for those nuggets of cinema which when happened upon are seized, greedily grasped, held to the breast, communed with in contemplation, drained of the tiniest shreds of ecstasy... This is my quest, and that of my brethren -- to turn the tables on Plato, 2400 years after he first proposed his brilliant mythic metaphor, and say -- No! In some of these shadows lie deeper, sometimes darker truths, which when meditated upon provide deliverance through intertwining play of reflection and rapture... Haven't time to essay further right now, but you know the story -- the Screened Cathedral's where I get my kicks! I'm just a cinema ecstasy junkie in search of a fix...

This week begins with a slightly extra-cinematic shout-out to Brian Darr and his film blog Hell on Frisco Bay. Brian has been helping get the word out about FOFF (as well as the whole gamut of worthwhile Bay Area film-exhibiting enterprises), and making overly-generous references to Highly Recommended! since it recently stuck its ungainly foot in the Bay Area film blog scene. It's now time for me to admit that I'm only a recent peruser of such blogs, and when I first heard of Hell on Frisco Bay, I made a point of avoiding it, since, having plans for "Recs" (as insiders have been calling it with apparent and inexplicable fondness), and having been appraised of Brian's seriousness and diligence, I feared being scared off the beat. Such anxieties have proved groundless in the happiest possible way, for Brian's approach is quite different. Whereas my terrain is relatively narrow, dealing with all manner of cinema, to be sure, but generally honing in on those works which have stood the test of time, Brian casts a wide net, finding a commendable balance of informed connoisseurship and joyous discovery. While I dish out my jaded bagatelles, Brian wisely employs a restrained, yet sinuous prose to illuminate, inform, and unite the film community. Since beginning to read "Frisco", I've found it an invaluable resource, and have made use of it as such more than once in this column. Highly Recommended! says "Highly Recommended!" re. Brian, and Hell on Frisco Bay! (Also, unless there's been some misunderstanding, I do believe Brian and I have tentative plans to collaborate in the creation of a Christopher Maclaine/The End-tour. Stay tuned for further details...)

And now to the movies...


Stanford: 7th Heaven

I first heard about Frank Borzage's capital "M" Masterpiece decades (or so) before actually having a chance to see it. By reputation, it was known not only as Borzage's greatest film, but as the sort of work which literal descriptions could only make seem ridiculous, and which could only be understood through direct experience. Was I mesmerized by those many years of hearsay into playing the perfect sap for this film's astonishing tricks? Can't say for sure. Surely, I'm not an unbiased witness. I do know upon finally seeing it, this film hit me like a ton of bricks. I was ravished, undone, transported, etc. It achieves access to a realm of the uncanny unlike any I've come across (although in American film it's hinted at in some films by McCarey ). The basic gist of Borzage's thematic is that Romantic Love is proof of God, and deliverance of his grace. I'm no believer, but as one (like all Westerners) who has imbibed the Judeo-Christian/Tristan und Isolde mythoi since conception, I've found myself a total sucker for the force with which Borzage articulates the means of melodrama to tap into the emotional wells lying deep within the subconscious for the sake of transcendental experience. (I haven't yet probed far enough into Hervé Dumont's seemingly exhaustive recent biographical study for revelations on how Borzage's abstruse Masonic erudition plays out in these matters.) I've written before in this column re. the "Transcendent Masterpiece" -- an appellation not necessarily having anything inherently to do with religion or the spiritual -- but by any definition, 7th Heaven is a TM in spades, and part of a tiny sub-genre of what might be termed works of "romantic resurrection", such as Dreyer's Ordet, and Bresson's Les dames du Bois du Boulogne. To rain on my Parade of Ecstasy, the Stanford has strangely paired Borzage's film with its 1937 remake by Henry King, which, tho admittedly having an excellent cast in Jimmy Stewart and Simone Simon (whose double-your-pleasure qualities continue to charm and inspire), threatens to interject profane into my sacred. I'm not having it -- I'm stickin' with Borzage's stupendous stalwarts Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. 7th Heaven is perhaps the greatest work evoking the POV of those dwelling in the gutter (actually, in this case, a literal sewer!) who dare to gaze up at the stars...

ATA: Journey from Darkness Into Light: A Spooktacular Program of Films by Kerry Laitala

Closer to home, but even further from the diurnal grind of everyday "reality" is this exciting Program by legendary local maverick Laitala. This mercurial creator of shape-shifting enchantments has built up a significant body of work exploring an at-first murky-seeming realm of shadow-play, quicksilver experiment in the wee hours, the attempt to unite sol with luna, the charming of phantasms, and sudden, but constant climaxes of pyrotechnic frenzy. In her work, the spirits dance, and grand guignol theatric spectaculars are improvised. We are guided through this preternatural terrain by an able psychopomp who transmutes celluloid lead into cinematic bullion. This extensive, but hardly exhaustive Program culminates with the performance of Little Bassy Velvet, one of Laitala's Expanded Cinema-projector performance pieces, which offer total immersion into the flickering dominion... This last has to be experienced to be believed - kinecstasy is achieved through the sum-total of cinematic apparati, and Kerry is quite the show-woman. In full disclosure, she is a friend and comrade -- she is also without doubt amongst the highest adepts of Bolex/optical-printer necromancy practicing today...

This show will be followed by next Fri's screening of Laitala's Muse of Cinema Series at the same venue, which includes a repeat performance of Little Bassy Velvet.


Oddball Films: From Darkness to Light: Experiments in Cinema

The recent economic woes must be having a spill-over effect on the lexicon, for an apparent word-shortage is displayed in the title of this show -- it plays the night after the "dark into light" trope utilized to lasso Laitala's over-abundant oeuvre has already been deployed. This may be appropriate, however, for this program features a plethora of complementary short works, including several by the graphically over-endowed Saul Bass, and that maestra of the silhouette discussed in this column in recent weeks, Lotte Reiniger, as well as an excerpt from that work of genius Olympia, by the demonic Leni Riefenstahl. Haven't seen any of these 'cept for the Leni, but it appears to be quite a strong program. If ATA sometimes seems a private club, this is truly the case with Stephen Parr's Oddball Films, which you have to contact by email in order to secure entry. The rigamarole is absolutely worth it -- Parr's screenings are held amidst an eye-popping catacomb of celluloid treasures, and this experience constitutes the cinephile's equivalent of a journey to Mecca. If you make the pilgrimage, tell Stephen "Om namah shivaya" from me...

Cerrito Speakeasy Theater: To Kill a Mockingbird

For those of us who know and love the work of the great Robert Mulligan, it's a bit hard not to resent Mockingbird's status as an auteur-transcending icon of delicate seriousness within the pop idiom. Nevertheless, it's a major Mulligan work, and I never fail to be deeply moved and impressed every time I encounter it, despite it having been detourned by the brilliant Martin Arnold. The scene of Scout, having departed the breakfast table, slamming the screen door on her way out, has been forever altered, but the rest of the film's power and glory lives on intact. I have my doubts re. whether the Speakeasy experience will serve this film (might be one big Martin Arnold festival!), but since I haven't yet availed myself, maybe I'd best lay off the hoity-toity routine...

Also plays Sun.

I'd planned on discussing the Clay's midnight screening of Alien: The Director's Cut at this point, but the web reminds me it was created employing the absurd and superfluous Digital Intermediate technique, whereupon I drop this scalding meteor and move on... Sigh...


Yerba Buena: Takahiko Iimura: On Time in Film

I know virtually nil about this program, presented as part of the Asian American Film Festival in conjunction with San Francisco Cinematheque, other than their being short works from the 70's which seem to trod similar conceptualist terrain as Anthony McCall, perhaps? Artist will be in person. Sure this'll be quite the scene, and I have doubts whether I'll be able to shoehorn myself into the charming, tiny Yerba Buena cinema, but this is a program worth noting...


Red Vic: Stranger Than Paradise

Whenever I haven't seen this film for some time, I begin to suspect it, and its legend, of being mere hipster pipe-dream. Upon re-acquaitance, I realize: No, this is the Real Deal. Hipster it may be, but this is a subtle, nuanced hipster aesthetic that defines a certain aspect of reality, as well as an appropriately slouching response to it. If you haven't seen this film, scoff away, but it is as vital and essential as a keystone to the 80's hipster sensibility as the Velvet Underground, say, are to that of the late 60's. BTW, with Akerman still on the brain, it should be mentioned that Jarmusch had clearly seen her early work, especially Je tu il elle and Jeanne Dielman, and was making the most of this knowledge, although it also has much in common with Wenders's Kings of the Road. Jarmusch was personally acquainted with Wenders thru his being Nick Ray's personal assistant during the production of Lightning Over Water, which led to Wenders donating the b+w 35mm film stock (leftover from The State of Things?) to make the first section of Stranger...

WED, MARCH 18th)

Red Vic: Down by Law

Katrina made this excellent, if imperfect film, with its images of decrepit New Orleans slums not yet swept away, just a bit more precious. In fact, perhaps these imperfections could be said to have come out in the wash... At any rate, Down is a highly enjoyable and beautiful movie which must be seen in 35mm at a public screening to appreciate both its silvery glory, and the success of its comedic dramaturgy, which really hits stride mid-stream. (How many hipsters, upon being arrested, have used the "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!" trick in their local jails?) Despite the comedic hijinks, much of its technique, like that of Stranger, owes a great deal to Akerman, only this time to the tail-end early works Les Rendez-vous d'Anna and Toute une nuit in its use of medium shots held for long durations, monologues spoken to unresponsive listeners, and gently-observed spontaneous interplay between characters... Whatever influences made their way into Jarmusch's early work, however, he was well on the way towards the creation of a personal universe, which, if not capacious, has its profundities, as well as a certain breadth. It's a shame this isn't a mini-retro encompassing the rest of his early major works, namely Permanent Vacation and Mystery Train, which, together with the works to hand, form a loose stylistic and thematic tetralogy...

Yerba Buena: San Francisco Cinematheque presents Crossroads, the Films of Bruce Conner (Program One)

Until last year saw his corporeal demise, I used to describe Bruce Conner as my favorite living artist. He made serious forays in multiple mediums, but was an authentic genius of the highest order in his "fine art" assemblage/sculpture pieces, and in film, by which I first became acquainted with his work. Enough ink and computer-screen light rays have been expended re. his invention of the found-footage film, and I won't add to the hyperbole, other than to say he was a brilliant hand-held camera operator of his own camera-originated works, and the GREATEST EDITOR IN THE HISTORY OF THE FILM MEDIUM!! 'Nuff said? This (semi-memorial?) retrospective of the greater part of his cinematic oeuvre is being presented in two, equally incredible sections, the first here at the Yerba, and the other presented tomorrow,


at, and is respectively designated:

SFMOMA: San Francisco Cinematheque presents Crossroads, the Films of Bruce Conner (Program Two)

Where I slave over hot projectors, workin' for the man... Look for me in the booth, and if they're any mishaps, remember -- "They'll hang you yet, Charles!"

Stanford: The Black Cat & Death Takes a Holiday

Last, but hardly least this week is this spooktacular (to make a flashbacking reference to earlier in the week's Journey Into Light, and setting things up nicely to remind you of Kerry Laitala's Muse of Cinema Series, playing tomorrow, Fri, March 20th, at ATA) double-feature. The Black Cat bears no relation to the ostensible Poe source, and has precious little to do with the notorious creature of its title, instead substituting an epic battle of Good vs. Evil between Boris Karloff and Bela Lagosi staged amidst astounding Bauhaus-inspired sets. Cat's auteur, Edgar G. Ulmer was poster-boy for the film maudit (in English, "damned film") sensibility, in that virtually without notice, he did wonders over the course of decades and many dozens of movies with what would be charitably described as chump change... His most famous film today is one of the key works of Noir, Detour, but back in the day, Black Cat probably garnered the most attention, as it had the biggest stars, highest budget, and, if memory serves, the most successful promotion and ticket reciepts of Ulmer's career. Despite all this, it is a highly strange and enjoyable film... I've only seen Mitchell Leisen's Death Takes a Holiday once, many years ago, and also at the Stanford, and can't say I remember it that well, except to say I thought it damned good. Leisen was given short shrift for far too long. Just about every film I've seen by him -- just about a half-dozen or so -- has been way beyond expectations. Sarris circa '68 thought him inferior to other, more distinctive directors. With hindsight, it's evident to me there's room under auteurism's big top for directors of such skill and delicacy. The big personality be damned! And with that, I'm outta here, Jack. The virtually unknown-to-me continent of Leisen's work beckons...


Posted March 21, 2009 at 10:10pm by Carl Martin:
Just to set the record straight so as not to mislead future generations, it appears that the Cerrito's shows of Mockingbird were preëmpted by Sunset Blvd., a change that the Bay Area Film Calendar's humble and sometimes overburdened compiler failed to notice in time. (And a change for the better, in his humble opinion.)

Posted March 22, 2009 at 1:37am by Brecht Andersch:
I need no corrections or opinions from jackanapes! -- humble or otherwise! Nice umlaut, tho. Gotta hand that to you, Mr. Compiler... As usual, all show and no substance...

Posted March 27, 2009 at 11:19am by Brian Darr (unregistered):
Just noticed that it's actually possible to comment on these entries, and therefore would like to belatedly thank the author for his kind words on my site. And to say, "Yes, lets do the The End tour". I'm available for planning on Tuesdays and Fridays (maybe other days too). boingdiddleypop is my address, my provider being yahoo.